How can Man United get the best out of Sanchez?
Manchester United’s stunning comeback win against Crystal Palace on Monday saw Romelu Lukaku step up, while Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata were influential off the bench in their second half fight rally.
But where was Alexis Sanchez?
[ MORE: Mourinho happy with comeback ]
The Chilean star, 29, cut a frustrated figure throughout the first half as he started out on the left and failed to impact the game. In the second half he was pushed into the middle to play behind Lukaku and although he saw more of the ball, Sanchez gave the ball away on 34 occasions (more than any other player on the pitch) and failed to assert himself on the game as we often saw with Arsenal over the past three years.
That’s been the case for most of his first few weeks at United.
Following his eagerly anticipated arrival from Arsenal in January (he arrived at Old Trafford via a swap with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and signed the largest contract in club history) Sanchez has scored one goal in eight outings and that was a tap in after his penalty kick against Huddersfield Town was saved. He has added two assists across those eight games.
The main reasons for the lack of offensive output is because Mourinho doesn’t seem to know where to play Sanchez. He’s often started on the left then found himself pushed inside and there’s an argument to be made that he’s actually much more effective as a central striker than a wide man.
It will be intriguing to see where he starts against Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live, 7: 30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), or if he starts at all given his poor display against Palace. He will likely start but if Jesse Lingard, Rashford or Anthony Martial put in that kind of display, they would not start the next game. Fact.
Sanchez played primarily up top for Arsenal in the 2016-17 season and he scored 30 goals and added 19 assists in 51 games in all competitions. That is incredibly productive and he kept Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck out of the team as he made the central striker role his own.
The main issue is that Romelu Lukaku, Rashford and even Zlatan Ibrahimovic are ahead of him in the pecking order in the center forward role at United and even though Mourinho may now use him more in a central area as a No.10, he is at his best when he is creating chances in the final third and running at defenders in the penalty box.
Right now Sanchez is doing most of his work 40 yards from goal and Mourinho must find a way to get him more involved further up the pitch.
Then again, with Sanchez a willing runner and never shying away from his defensive responsibilities, United’s more defensive approach compared to Arsenal’s free-flowing attacking play may be the real issue here. Mourinho may not want to upset the balance of his team and with Lukaku well on track to reach 30 goals in all competitions, perhaps he is happy with less goals and assists from Sanchez.
Either way, United need to figure out how to get the best out of Sanchez and that could well be playing him up top alongside or just underneath Lukaku.